LETTER FROM LIBERIA The Journey Continues « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


The Journey Continues

Another World, Made from America

I have on occasion offered glimpses of my volunteer work in West Africa. My Pro-Bono Life: Purpose is Prime: Why West Africa? Why Literacy? (February 20, 2023);  Small Planet, Big Dreams; African Literacy Campaign in Liberia and Ghana (October 14, 2022).  I have been back Liberia in for a week, with these thoughts over the first few days.


I can sense Africa long before return, this time a vague flower-plus-charcoal scent on warm current in a Clearwater parking lot. Yes, going back.

Liberia, for one, has long since been a visitor’s novelty for me.  Safe that 17 years’ of returning earns one more than a tourist stamp.  Incredible that it’s been that long.  Snap your fingers and all of a sudden 2006 is 2023.

Thus, upon three flights over 24 hours starting in Tampa (to New York, to Accra, to Monrovia), Jay at the wheel and I are again pulling out of the Robertsfield terminal (Thu., 3/23).  He has positioned his driver in the backseat to watch over shoulder and chase down  anyone who ventures to liberate one of the four suitcases piled in our open short-bed behind.

We catch-up on the 40 slow miles to “Town,” the sun sliding away before us.  Foremost is the T-word, traffic.  National election year?  No better time for the Weah Administration to show the people results – or at least attempted results.  Thus, before the rainy season (starts in May if not sooner), there are crews all along widening on either side the two lanes to multiple, digging, grading, smoothing.  This renders the paved roadway inescapable, no shoulders, instead a cut on both sides high/deep enough to roll a vehicle if tires stray over the side.

The whole flow is at the mercy of any breakdown, with stories of post-work drives not ending until 1:00 a.m.  Emergency services? Ha, ha, ha but not really a joke, e.g., the seven people who died the day before arrival in a fiery multi-vehicle crash some 300 feet from my “RLJ” hotel turnoff.

Nowhere in evidence were these horrible flaming deaths as we pass the spot the next night.  Instead, it is business as usual, jammed cars, putt-putts, cycles and their riders all destination bound. No irony, just a case-in-point.  It’s Liberia man, the land and people starkly unique to all the Continent. Of course, every corner of Africa  is distinct but Liberia?! Yep, stand-out exceptional.

With some 1.3M U.S. African slaves at the time, the 1804 success of the brutal Haitian Black slave revolution created some not-so-slight concern among the American powerful.  “Send them back to where they came from” is not a new refrain.  Patterned on Sierra Leone – an African-American colony of formerly enslaved on the African-Atlantic coast financed by British interests – the American Colonization Society sailed the first  “returnees” in 1820 to find a foothold in the same region.

By the 1847 founding of the Republic of Liberia, the ACS and similar initiatives had landed some 4,000 on that “Windward-“ or “Pepper Coast.”  To shore up against white domination  the “love of liberty” that brought them here, the freed settlers limited citizenship to those of Negroid descent. Yet, they also brought America with them, now standing as the entitled and advantaged elite ruling against the supposedly ignorant “aborigines” living up the rivers and in the hinterlands.

Flick forward past so many iterations of the coast-hugging colonizer “haves” against the up-country tribes – with the concurrent cycle-upon-cycle of the elites borrowing heavily from British and American finance to make their extravagant ends meet —  and we arrive at 1980 when Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe – of the southeastern Krahn tribe — lead the coup that murdered President Tolbert and cabinet, replacing 100-plus years of privileged rule with Doe’s People’s Redemption Council.

Ten years later, 1990, Doe was deposed and killed in turn by now-convicted war criminal Charles Taylor and his allies.  The ensuing 13-years of ruthless civil conflict finally ended with Taylor’s 2003 exile and U.N. occupation.

As we make the turn into RLJ on this March Thursday evening – and with its three national election cycles of relative peace (2005, 2011, 2017) —  Liberia is a country rated among the three most poverty stricken planetwide, over half of its 4M-plus population too young to have experienced the child soldier-lead genocides and most of these functionally illiterate.

Jay and I are back out on the road toward town next day (3/24) at 7:00 a.m., even that hour not early enough to risk major vehicle freeze.  It’s also not too early for long lines of locals outside polling stations aiming to be among first for voting registration on the fall presidential election.

I have no claim to understand the horizons and hopes of these many. Modest means is a triumphant understatement.  The scene each side of most any road reflects the forces confining them: A table top economy with its meagre returns;  the big-guy Lebanese and Asians keeping capital within their circles; government support for the status quo won by status quo feeding government corruption; an education system based on rote learning.  Against such odds, what could anyone standing in those voting registration lines reasonably regard as a feasible future?  Yet, here they are, showing up, trusting, hoping, speaking by action.

I too have been showing up here for 17 years, but that’s an off-and-on thing.  Fact is I’ve always had that plane ride back to my far-off infrastructure-stocked home and all the other presumed entitlements of my American station.

OK, so I am a relative outsider, but there’s a question here I find legitimate. Is Liberia a “never again” post-genocide country in practice or in name only?  The disparity here in this just-below-chaotic main city community is endemic, starting with the arrivals 200 years back.  Education-less youth fueled the 14-years of genocide (1989-2003).  Today’s un- and under-educated young don’t have that deterring horror in their histories. “Never again” is not part of their vocabulary.

Although one only need close his eyes and point to these 360 degree realities, the picture is not prevailing gloom.  There is here laughter, music, beauty, intelligence and creativity to the point of brilliance.  Here,  palpably, there is at work the strongest force on Earth: The resilience and determination of the human spirit.

That grabbed me the first time I showed up here (2006).  It suggests that despite the sometimes spectacular aggravation that comes with this territory, one might just keep showing up and try to help out.  It suggests that some further bloody national cataclysm is not in the cards or the stars, if the keystone human right to meaningful, competency based learning can be secured for this younger generation and every generation to follow.

American author and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard’s Study Technology or “Study Tech” is the missing ingredient.  That it enables instructor and student to embrace and apply any subject at hand is remarkable enough.  Its deeper utility is to provide every individual with the lifetime power of understanding and with that, the recognition of citizenship’s responsibilities and the certainty of fulfilling them.

And so we work …

Tim Bowles
Paynesville, Liberia
Friday, March 24, 2023

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